In twenty-one years, Amir had learned much about the world. Still, he knew little. He was aware of this, of course, but took it in stride. He reasoned that for every morning he woke up, he would get a little better at being an adult. Surely, his mother hadn’t started life so wise. She hadn’t been able to bake bread from scratch or know how to wash and dry linen properly from the womb. Maybe she’d been just as clueless as him at twenty-one, with dishes piling up, an un-mopped floor, and a month’s worth of washing waiting patiently, in the corner of the apartment.
Amir pushed these thoughts aside. He waited outside the little Turkish coffee shop amongst the throng of impatient, caffeine-deprived city folk. A little girl with pigtails and a frilly pink dress tugged at her father’s jacket, asking politely for a babychino. The father gave her a warm smile and obliged. Amir was thankful that his mask hid his scoff. His mother would laugh at the concept of a babychino, never mind the thought of getting her son one.
Comparisons, again. One of the first things he had learnt in those days of early adulthood was to let go of comparisons. It was always a dangerous game, to see reflections of your desires in the bright pixels on Instagram. Sometimes it was impossible, like a second instinct. It was a soft poison, in a way. Small amounts were fine, healthy even. Providing aspirations and a little motivation. Too much, and you could find yourself deep in the pits of resentment, pinned in the tar of self-pity. His mother had been sure to remind him of this, of the poisons waiting on the lips of self-pity. While his friends found pretty girlfriends in university and full-time work, Amir had kept her words close to his chest.
A girl with big brown eyes and a horizontal eyebrow piercing leaned out the small window where the scent of coffee and fried dough lingered.
“Amir?” she called in a bored drawl.
Amir took the tray of coffee with a smile in his eyes.
The second thing Amir had learnt was to show kindness to everyone. People that were kind to you, people that were rude to you. Resentment would lead only to a heavy heart. And what youth wanted to carry a great big stone in their chest, day after day?
Before heading home to his apartment and the load of dirty washing awaiting him, Amir stopped in at a bakery. It was run by an Italian family and managed by the elderly matriarch of the family. Her husband sat out front of the bakery with a cigarette during midday, usually reading an old pulpy crime novel. The old man tugged his mask down and flashed Amir a grin and a wink as he entered the shop. Amir gave him a wink right back.
Amir tossed a few crinkled notes onto the glass counter.
“Nonna,” Amir said warmly, presenting the old lady with a cup of coffee. The matriarch sighed, loud and dramatic, and gave him a brown paper bag filled with freshly baked goods.
“You spoil me, boy,” she said with a shake of her head. Amir gave the paper bag a shake.
“I think you spoil me, Nonna.”
Amir’s apartment was a windswept work of oils, charcoal prints, and pots of idle paints. Canvases lay stacked on one another. Some were half-painted, others the beginning scraps of an idea. The few complete works sat in the closet protected by a tarp.
Amir’s oldest friend lay on the couch, his feet propped up on the arm of the couch, boots still on from the day before. He was asleep, a Kindle on the coffee table with the first chapter of Dracula open. Amir, quiet as he could, placed the bag and tray of coffee down. He then placed the Kindle on charge. His friend had soft grey-black hair despite the fact he was in his early thirties, a golden ring piercing in his septum, and dirt still on his hands.
Kieran was a soft-spoken man with the strength of an ox. Amir had learnt much from him.
Kieran’s head jerked up quickly, in the way people only do for the scent of freshly brewed hot coffee.
“Trying to yank me back from the verges of zombification?” Kieran asked, his voice fogged by sleep. The edges of his smile peaked out beneath his grey moustache.
“Terrible of me, raising the dead. My father would be disappointed.” Amir smiled in reply. He took a sip of his coffee and the warmth of the drink spread across his chest. As Kieran ate the fresh Focaccia, Amir read over the sticky notes scattered all over the coffee table. Scrambled, hare-brained ideas for a screenplay had been hastily scrawled over the blue squares. They were the mad ramblings and passion of the night before given form.
Kieran had returned from his shift, dreary-eyed and shoulders sagging. He’d kissed Amir on the temple and sunk into the couch, ready to drift away. But his best friend, perhaps his only friend, and perhaps the love of his life, had refused to let the tradesman slip into a labour-induced sleep. Instead, Amir asked a question. He’d watched the most awful thriller movie earlier that day. It’d bothered him so much he felt compelled to write a better one. So, together they watched the horrible movie again. Kieran found his fire upon seeing such an awful movie and deep into the night, the two set out to craft something infinitely better. They cheered, they drank and argued, and they howled when they crafted the perfect motivation for the killer at around three am.
When Amir woke that morning with around two hours of sleep in his veins, he found a blanket draped over him. Kieran lay beside him, half slumped over the arm of the couch. Amir squeezed his hand and sighed.
“Your neck is going to ache like hell when you wake up idiot,” he’d whispered and hoped his chiding would reach his lover’s dreams. He’d kissed Kieran’s knuckles and each of his silver rings. With a scarf wrapped around his neck— his mother had given it to him when he first moved out for university—Amir went into the world in search of some form of thanks.
Amir sipped his coffee and slid beside his love. Kieran licked the last of the crumbs and herbs from his fingertips and settled his head on Amir’s shoulder. They sat in comfortable silence, drinking their Turkish coffee.
It was moments like this, that Amir kept close to his chest. He’d learnt long ago that moments of contentment are not made to last forever, and having a generous heart next to your own was not an immortal thing. He kept them close so that one day, when there was no more Turkish coffee, the scarf was no more than a few mangled threads, and perhaps Kieran had found a new life, Amir would still have all the love in the world.
And a heart, light as air.
About the author:
Isabelle Quilty (she/they) is a non-binary writer and poet from regional NSW, Australia. Most of their work is based around LGBTQ+ topics, working towards a greener future, and works inspired by their South Asian ancestry. They’ve been published by a variety of magazines including Spineless Wonders, Kindling and Sage, Mascara Literary Review and Demure Magazine. They also have a bachelor’s degree in Writing and Publishing and love a good oat milk iced latte. Currently, they’re working on their first short story collection ‘The Dead Flower Society.’ More of their work can be found at their website: isabellequiltyauthor.squarespace.com and on Instagram @thecaffeinebee.